O'Brien, Eliza Anne
"The tale never dies": imprisonment, trial and English Jacobin fiction, 1788-1805.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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Between 1788 and 1805 a subgenre of the novel, which has come to be called the Jacobin novel, provided a series of representations of imprisonment and trial. By reading these politically charged representations against the shared ideology of social and political reform articulated by the writers William Godwin, Thomas Holcroft, Elizabeth Inchbald and Mary Wollstonecraft, we can see how the project of reform is effected and put to the test in their fictional works. I evaluate these novels against the background of penal and legal reform in the latter half of the eighteenth century in England, and offer a reading of the use of imprisonment and trial in fiction in the 1790s as one that functions both as an attack upon the penal and judicial systems and as a subtly-functioning metaphor for the purpose of literature itself.
In chapter one I set out the theoretical framework for the thesis in relation to the work of John Bender and other critics on eighteenth-century literature and culture, before moving onto an account of the eighteenth-century prison and influential theories of penal reform. Chapter two focuses upon changes in the legal sphere, the concept of fiction and the use of reading as a means to reform. Chapter three examines the work of William Godwin in relation to his writings on the 1794 London treason trials, and considers the representation of prison reform in his fiction. Chapter four analyses Elizabeth Inchbald’s attempts to destabilise imprisoning patriarchal authority in the domestic sphere as well as the court of law. Chapter five discusses Mary Wollstonecraft’s generic experimentation, and examines her attack upon the forces that make prisoners of women. Chapter six investigates the treason trial writings of Thomas Holcroft and his novels’ representation of penal and social reform through his engagement with conversation and debate.
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